Count It All Joy
From the Heart of Dr. Rexella Van Impe
Suffering: A Door to Finding Satisfaction
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing (James 1:2-4). Trials will make us either bitter or better.
I know what it is like to be broken -- literally. Jack and I experienced a terrible automobile accident in Brussels in 1979. We were in Europe for our wedding anniversary and planned to celebrate the joyous occasion with members of Jack's family.
That particular afternoon, we had traveled to Brussels to shop for anniversary gifts. We leisurely walked and talked, truly enjoying our visit to this fascinating city. We even stopped for afternoon tea and shared a sandwich. (A cousin was preparing a feast for our anniversary dinner that night and we didn't want to ruin our appetites!)
The afternoon ended all too quickly, and we soon found ourselves driving back to the home of the cousin with whom we were staying. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a bus traveling 50 miles an hour struck our vehicle with such impact that my side of the car was ripped away and the rest of the automobile completely demolished. I remember saying, "Jack, there's a bus!" He attempted to swerve, but it was too late. My last thoughts as I fell out onto the busy street was, This is what it's like to die.
Everything went black. I felt no pain until my husband's warm tears falling on my face revived me. His voice was choked with emotion as he wept and prayed over me. "Lord, must it end this way? Don't let it happen. Please work a miracle!"
I felt that I was slipping away from him, and I wanted him to know how much I loved him. "Honey, I think I am dying," I whispered. "I don't want to leave you."
"Oh no," Jack cried. "Oh, God, please help us, Somehow spare her life."
I wish that in some way I could convey the peace that I experienced from God during this time. Even Christians sometimes wonder about and perhaps are somewhat afraid of the unknown -- that valley of the shadow of death through which we must one day pass. I would love to stand on a mountaintop and call to every believer everywhere, "Don't be afraid!" At the moment of departure, He is there to give us peace and sustain our hearts. What a comfort to know that we are the Lord's most prized possessions and that He will never allow us to go through the transition from this world to the next in fear. I rejoice over this experience today because I can say with David, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me (Psalm 23:4).
Suspended in God's sweet peace, I was almost in the presence of the Lord. Then suddenly, I was pulled back from going over. A hand grasped my wrist and a man stood beside me. He tenderly placed a blanket over my body and in perfect English said, "Don't move her. She will be all right." Immediately, my mind began to clear and I knew that I would live.
As quickly as he had appeared, he was gone. The Lord had sent a man or an angel (only He knows) to provide perfect comfort and to minister to us in a special way Hebrews 1:14 says: Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?
An ambulance rushed us to the hospital. I looked at Jack and was reassured to know that he was all right. I knew that somehow God was doing something special in our lives --
something that would ultimately glorify Him if we would not faint (see II Corinthians 4:16).
I had sustained a severe head injury. X rays revealed that I had a broken collarbone and two broken ribs. I had also sustained numerous cuts and bruises, and fragments of glass were embedded in parts of my body. In fact, the doctor spent four hours removing glass from my legs, head, and ears. God had divinely and miraculously spared my face and eyes, for which I shall forever be grateful.
Because of my head injury, I was unable to receive any pain medication for 18 hours. In addition, I was told that if the bleeding from my head wound did not stop during the night, doctors would be forced to shave my head in order to suture the extreme abrasion. Jack remained by my side every minute of that entire night, praying with me, comforting me, and talking with me. We asked God for a miracle, and He gave us one. By morning, the bleeding had stopped.
Neither of us slept during that long, unforgettable night. As we talked about why it happened, I felt a kinship with Job. God had allowed Satan to test us but not destroy us or our ministry together. He allowed the test to go so far, and no further. I knew that my Father was in control and that my Saviour was not leaving me alone. Indeed, I knew that He was feeling my infirmity with even greater intensity than I.
Jack spent the next 48 hours trying to get the doctors to release me for our return to America.
British Airways agreed to fly us and graciously provided wheelchair and ambulance service all the way to Detroit. Still, the hours in flight were painfully long, Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me (II Timothy 4:17).
During the next three months, I received extensive medical treatment and stringent therapy. Adhesions formed as the damaged muscles and tendons in my crushed shoulder healed. Doctors said that without corrective surgery I would never use my arm again. Instead, I underwent months of excruciating rehabilitative exercises to correct the situation. Still, I would not want to look back upon this experience with anything but rejoicing and praise -- rejoicing in the Lord's protection and love in bringing me through this trial and praise that He counted me worthy to be put to the test.
Resistance to Suffering is Counterproductive
Unfortunately, instead of counting problems and trials as joy and allowing them to work patience and maturity, many people tend to follow their natural inclination, and the difficulties produce bitterness and resentment. That, in turn, only amplifies dissatisfaction, until finally they are caught in a never-ending cycle of devastatingly negative feelings.
The only effect resistance has on our trials is to make them more difficult to bear. When we rebel against God and turn from Him, we shut out the One who can enable us to carry whatever burden He gives us. How tragic it is to see someone who has gone through grief and pain who then turns sorrow into bitterness against God! That is not what God wants. He wants to make the burden light and the yoke easy to bear (see Matthew 11:30).
I know that it is normal to want to resist problems, and, of course, it is right and even necessary to resist some things. For example, we should not give in to immoral acts, so we must resist temptation. Scripture tells us to resist Satan (see James 4:7; I Peter 5:9).
Nevertheless, when we are confronted with trials that are beyond our control, we need to see ourselves as Paul did -- like clay in the hands of the Potter, submissive to His will for our lives. We must realize that through these trials He is molding us. shaping us. and perfecting us -- until we become vessels that He can use.
Have you ever watched a potter work on a pottery wheel? He squeezes and pinches and applies pressure, and from what was an ugly lump of clay comes forth a beautiful, useful piece of pottery. The potter knows just where to poke and just where to rub -- it is a fascinating process to watch. Occasionally, the potter will decide a radical change is in order, and he will smash a nearly molded pot and begin again from the beginning.
Jeremiah described the process:
Perhaps you feel like the Potter has smashed you that way. I have good news for you. God is one Potter who always rebuilds the vessels He allows to be broken so that they are better than before. It may not always be in the way we desire or think is best, but in the process, it is nonproductive for us to resist and become bitter. Instead we should try to see what is happening from God's perspective, even though we may not understand what He is doing, and yield to His will for us. Paul wrote, Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay? (Romans 9:20, 21).
Acceptance: A New Name for Satisfaction
Yes, Job bore all the pain -- in his case both physical pain and mental anguish -- and did not sin with his lips. He never accused God or spoke bitterly against Him. Quite the contrary, Job accepted the negative things as graciously as he had accepted the good things. Though the task was not easy, out of Job's afflictions came some wonderful fruit. The first is the book of Job -- a good source of comfort in times of despair and doubt. In addition, Job grew wiser and closer to the Lord through his ordeal. Even his so-called comforters learned from his sufferings.
What became of Job. The answer is recorded for us in verses 12 and 13 and chapter 42: So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning. After this lived Job an hundred and forty years...
The "secret" of Job's success and blessing is rooted in the fact that he endured his suffering. He never turned from God. Instead, he repented! Why would a man who was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil (1:1) do such a thing? Because Job, through his suffering, was privileged to get a glimpse of God in His holiness. As a result, he saw himself as completely unworthy so that he said, I abhor myself(2:6). And in doing that, he discovered yet a third way of responding to trials.
Rejoicing: A Perspective You May Have Overlooked
The answer is found in the perspective we choose to take. No one rejoices in the death of a loved one. Job didn't, and even Jesus wept at the grave of His friend Lazarus. Scripture acknowledges that sorrow and grief are appropriate and normal responses to death.
Bitterness comes when we focus on our sorrows or trials themselves rather than on the Lord and what He is attempting to accomplish through them. From this perspective, we can easily become discouraged. Unfortunately, this is exactly the place in which many dissatisfied people find themselves. However, if we look beyond the trials and understand that God is working in the midst of them, if we focus our hearts on Him, a miracle begins to occur. He brings peace in the midst of pain, and joy in the midst of sorrow. Truly, His grace is sufficient.
My Grandmother Shelton taught me firsthand the meaning of glorying in tribulation. She knew trials all her life. She was the mother of eight children and, as a diabetic, had to take insulin shots every day of her life. She was a tall, vibrant, robust lady who would pick me up (literally) and shake me like a rag doll and say, "I love you, Rexella." What a shock when she lost first one leg, then the other, to amputation because of complications from her disease. She would never walk again; yet, I never heard her mention her trials or complain. Her focus went far beyond them. And as she looked to the Lord and leaned on Him, she was actually able to glory in her infirmities! She was always rejoicing. I remember her often taking out a little harmonica and playing it. Just being around her brought me great joy, and I seldom thought of her as being in pain, although I'm certain she suffered greatly.
There is something to be said for pain. Trials are not pleasant, but they are valuable. A flower must be crushed before it yields perfume. A grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die before it can bear fruit (see John 12:24). And we must suffer for the Lord if we are to be glorified with Him (see Romans 8:17).
If you are going through a trial, don't resist it. And don't just accept it or endure it. Learn to glory in it! God is doing something through your trials. You may not understand it fully, and He does not always give us explanations. But He does give us promises -- and He always keeps them.
God must have broken things -- throughout all plant life, all history, all the great biographical accounts, and in all spiritual life, this fact is preeminent.
Why should we then shrink from those things, which may break us at some point? If we will but allow Him, the brokenness we experience can be used for our purer good and for God's glory. Such brokenness may come in the form of being broken in wealth, half-will, ambitions, ideals, reputation, affections, and even brokenness in health. Remember the final tally of life is not seen in the here and now. Can you, like James wrote, "Count it all joy?"
When It All Falls Apart
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